WASHINGTON: US special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad’s trip to the Middle East has been extended to give him more time for negotiating a peace deal with the Taliban, says the US State Department.
On Tuesday, US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo said at a public meeting in Iowa that he may visit Doha, where US and Taliban representatives are holding their talks, to help finalise a deal.
“It sounds like his [Khalilzad’s] trip has been extended,” State Department’s Deputy Spokesperson Robert Palladino said at a news briefing on Tuesday afternoon.
“I wouldn’t go so far as to say open-ended, but this is the nature of diplomacy. Opportunities present themselves; we change course, we correct,” said the US official while explaining why the trip was extended.
Mr Palladino noted that the Taliban had come to the meeting, which has continued for more than a week now, with an “empowered” team led by Mullah Baradar, their deputy leader. The US team, led by Mr Khalilzad, also included several agencies, he added.
Mr Palladino said that the talks were focusing on “four interconnected issues that are going to compose any future agreement: counterterrorism, troop withdrawal, intra-Afghan dialogue, and a ceasefire”.
When reminded that Pompeo called the Taliban “a terrorist group” in Iowa on Tuesday while a US team was negotiating a peace deal with them, Mr Palladino said: “The secretary’s words speak for themselves, and I’m not going to go beyond that.”
The United States, he said, was “very focused on bringing better results to what’s going on in that part of the world, and that’s where our focus currently is. And we’ll stay focused on that.”
Mr Palladino said there were no deadlines for the talks to conclude, as “Mr Khalilzad is engaging on this on a daily basis right now, and progress is being made.”
Published in Dawn, March 7th, 2019